Here are some random thoughts I have typed up regarding this whole "God Pod" idea. It's partly a reaction to the Alper article linked in the opening post, but mostly consists of my reactions to Metacrock's recent blog on the subject-- not necessarily what I thought Metacrock was saying, but also what some of the people he was quoting appeared to be saying (and also some of the implications of some of the statements).
You might want to read his blog first: it's here.
Anyway, here goes:
I don’t think “brain creates mind” in the sense that all mind is, is a construct of the brain, vanishing when the brain dies. The liver creates blood, but blood is a separate thing from the liver, not just a construct of the complexity of the liver. You can take blood out of the body and will still be blood– it will not vanish because the liver isn’t there any more. Even so with near-death experiences– brain activity ceases, but the person’s mind does not.
I’m not saying mind is a substance like blood is. But mind is more than just activity in the brain.
Neither is consciousness of the metaphysical merely a more complex form of understanding that doors can have X’s on them and still be doors. My cats would not be phased by the sudden presence of an X on a door. They would still scratch at it and meow to be let through! I don’t see what they’re doing as “leaps of faith,” such that when we believe in God we’re just making a bigger “leap of faith.” Naturalists would have us believe our need for meaning is simply a more complex form of that understanding that knows what a door is and what it’s used for.
But the need for meaning is something more than this. The need for meaning, the need for God, is the need for something we cannot create for ourselves (like a door). We know by common sense that this sort of thing is bigger than our ability to make it– that if we have to make it, it doesn’t really exist but is merely imagination. If our brains are, in fact, hard-wired to need a transcendent Source of meaning, and there is none– then we are of all creatures in the universe most to be pitied. We have evolved to need something that does not exist, something we cannot create for ourselves and still trust in it– something, in fact, that we can never truly have. No other creature that we know of suffers this fate. Animals need food, and there is food, they need to breathe, and there is air, they need to procreate, and there is sex. But we need God, meaning, transcendence– and there is none. How could this have happened?
I feel that the idea that just because we can pinpoint what happens in the brain when something stimulates it, means there is no external stimulus, is nonsense– as Metacrock said, the fact that parts of an animal’s brain light up when it smells food, doesn’t mean there’s no food to be smelled!
I have always thought of madness as a state where the mind is separated, somehow, from reality– that the constructs we make in our minds of what reality is, no longer correspond with what is actually going on. If the metaphysical is not reality, if there is nothing actually there, but we are hardwired to construct it anyway– then evolution has in the end produced a species that is collectively and irrevocably mad.
The whole idea that we developed this way in order to help deal with the fact that we are able to understand and anticipate the finality of death– that’s just another way of saying that God is an explanation for something. We die, we want to not die and continue, so we create an afterlife, and a God to watch over it. That still doesn’t explain what the sense of the numinous is.
And it doesn't, in the end, prove Alper's point. If all our need for the spiritual is merely a coping reaction for awareness of death-- well, our minds are also capable of understanding that this might be all it is; that it might not be real. It seems to me that our minds developed the ability to doubt right along with the ability to believe. You would think evolution would resist this short-circuit of its coping mechanism, by hard-wiring us not to doubt, wouldn't you?
On the other hand, if a Creator actually did this, the Creator might have good reasons to allow doubt and skepticism as one of our choices.